Colorado Legends: Doc Holliday

Doc Holliday was born John Henry Holliday in Georgia in 1851.  When you look at his early years, he was an educated man.  John studied history, language, math, and grammar at the Valdosta Institute in Georgia.

He left Georgia for Pennsylvania to study dentistry and graduated in 1872 with a Doctor of Dental Surgery Degree from the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery.

Hence, he received the nickname “Doc” Holliday.  He returned to Georgia and opened a dental practice. Doesn’t exactly sound like the makings of a legendary gunfighter, does it? Well, now his story gets interesting.

Doc was diagnosed with tuberculosis after beginning his dental practice and was told to move to a drier climate for his health. He headed west.  He arrived in Texas in 1873 and tried to start a dental practice there.  Without much success, Doc started frequenting saloons and took up gambling. He found it was easier to make money this way than pulling teeth.

Doc started moving around the western U.S. gambling, drinking, and getting into gunfights. He had a very hot temper, fueled by drink and the knowledge that he could die at any time because of his illness.  He was reckless and didn’t care.

During his travels, he became friends with some of the biggest legends in old west history.  During his time in Arizona, he befriended Wyatt Earp and his brothers. He helped the Earp’s in a gunfight with the Clanton Gang.  The OK Corral, I believe it was called. He frequently met up with Bat Masterson in Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming. The gold and silver booms in Colorado made for easy pickings as the gamblers and gunfighters headed for Denver, Leadville, and the western slope of the state.

Doc Holliday was in his element here.  He spent the rest of his remaining years living in Colorado.

Doc was only in his mid-thirties when his illness began to get worse. After coming to Leadville, he began suffering from altitude sickness.  This complicated his already diminished health.

He kept drinking alcohol steadily and added another depressant, laudanum, to his cocktail. Not the ace gambler and gunfighter he once was, Doc had heard about the healing waters of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

Maybe his body would become renewed there at the springs and return to his old way of life. He traveled to Glenwood Springs in hope that the springs would help heal him.  Instead, the sulfur steam from the water made his condition much worse.  It probably killed him.

This stay at the springs was his last.  As he lay dying, it is said he asked for a shot of whiskey and as he looked down at his bootless feet said, “Now that’s funny.” Those were his last words.  Doc Holliday died on November 8, 1887.  He is buried in Linwood Cemetery overlooking the town of Glenwood Springs, Colorado.